Choices? Just do it!

by Astrid Jansa Gallagher '57

There are, of course, as many different ways of solving the issue of women’s work choices as there are women. We each have to do what is right for us.

However, the impression from your stories seems to be that the more education women have, the more angst they have, and the more they seem to become helicopter parents. Except for the two mothers who brought up their children as single parents, there is also very little mention of fathers involved in the process — which I find hard to believe in this day and age.

More than 50 years ago, I knew I wanted to work. My chosen field would have been foreign trade, and so I went to the American Institute for Foreign Trade in Glendale, Arizona. But I had had polio after my junior year at Scripps and was hospitalized for a year afterwards, first in the Panama Canal Zone, and then in Southern California. This immediately narrowed my choices, as, at that time, there was no disabled access anywhere, making most jobs either difficult or impossible.

I had married shortly after graduating from Scripps and, because of the lack of adequate birth control, had three kids in a row. As every parent knows, children require a huge amount of work, and I had few of the current labor-saving items we take for granted now. When the youngest was six months old, the pill became available, and later, IUDs. They were real liberators. More than anything else, they made it possible for women to pursue their passions.

Yet not many of my friends did work while their children were small, and relatively few later on. I simply went back to graduate school and took the geography courses I enjoyed. At some point, I took teacher education classes and ended up with both an elementary and junior high certificate. I was offered a part-time job at Elliot Junior High in Altadena teaching Spanish and French. To my great surprise, I loved it. My youngest was in pre-school while I was teaching, and my dad took up the slack. My husband had taken care of the kids the evenings I was gone.  The house was never tidy, and no one cared. During this time, the kids were learning to do housework, and gradually as they grew older, they took over the whole job. My husband did the grocery shopping, and the repairs.

When we moved to New Jersey, I got a high school job teaching Spanish and an occasional French class. Over the years, I would sometimes take a part-time position, just for the rest.

I retired after 25 years of teaching, with a full pension, Social Security, and Medicare. The financial benefits of my work were huge. We were able to pay for the college education of our kids without benefit of scholarships or loans. They also worked to earn their own money.

Some five years before retirement, I went into the rental real estate business with one of my kids here in San Luis Obispo. This has been a second career for me. So in reality, I am still working.

My grandchildren are brought up by fantastic parents. One set had a nanny so both could work full time until the kids started school. One set sent their boys to daycare and traded off the pick-up times, and the boys learned a lot there. My daughter works full time and then some, and her husband is the caregiver. And are their kids ever well brought up! I see a lot of fathers as the stay-at-home parent. But I’ve also noticed that the traditional parenting roles are fluid these days.

I wonder if the less one worries about stuff and just does it, the easier life gets. I didn’t really make choices, the choices fell into my lap.


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